Awhile back, I was introduced to the talents of Eric Whitacre and his evocative song “When David Heard”, by my composer-friend, Zachary Horner (if you get the chance, be sure to check out his Sound Cloud account for samples of his own amazing work), and continue to be fascinated by the song’s depth and intensity conjured up by–most astounding!–the singing of just a single verse from 2nd Samuel.
“When David heard that Absalom was slain he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept, my son, my son, O Absalom my son, would God I had died for thee!” (2nd Sam. 18:23 KJV)
The song is brimming with emotion. It was nearly too much for me to bear the first time I heard it. When the voices got loud my eyes started to fill and I had the wild impulse to rip my earbuds out, cover my ears and run. I could picture it all–the gut-wrenching grief like voices screaming in my ears, chasing me down, hunting me like a wild animal then, as the voices quieted I could feel the loneliness creeping in like a quiet mist. I could see the memory of the long march back home, the uncertain glances from the soldiers as they watched their brave warrior-king retreat within himself, his eyes glazing over, unresponsive to those around him, uncaring of where he went next, his thoughts consumed by the one who was not with them, the son whom he loved and was dead. It was like a darkness had fallen over the whole company.
Later, it felt like a dream. It was easy for me to imagine King David waking up, panting, sweat glistening on his brow and sitting up in bed only for the silence to tear his soul more than his dream. I could feel the coldness, the unresponsiveness of the palace stone walls. I could feel the cry for answers, the despair, the emptiness.
In the final minute of the piece, it was as if the shepherd-king was standing on one of his many balconies, looking out over the business of the city, listening to the voices bubbling up from the market square and remembering all that once was. Time has passed and the gut-wrenching grief has passed, leaving behind only a dull ache.
He can never forget.
He can’t simply move on.
He can’t explain why.
It just is.